More than half of Europeans will get infected by Omicron before winter is over - WHO
Europe saw more than seven million newly-reported cases in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period, said WHO regional director Hans Kluge.
He warned that the Omicron variant represented a "new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across" the European region.
At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks,
Kluge told reporters.
The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.
Evidence, however, is emerging that Omicron is affecting the upper respiratory tract more than the lungs, causing milder symptoms than previous variants. But the WHO has cautioned more studies are still needed to prove this.
WHO's senior emergency officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, warned at the briefing that treating the virus as an endemic illness, rather than a pandemic is "way off", as endemicity requires a stable and predictable transmission.
"We still have a huge amount of uncertainty and a virus that is evolving quite quickly, imposing new challenges.
We are certainly not at the point where we are able to call it endemic,
"It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage."
Referencing data collected over the last few weeks, Kluge said the variant was confirmed to be more transmissible and "the mutations it has enable it to adhere to human cells more easily, and
it can infect even those who have been previously infected or vaccinated.
However, Kluge also stressed that
approved vaccines do continue to provide good protection against severe disease and death, including for Omicron.
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